I'm a coach. No... Wait... You already know that. I'm a teacher. THAT'S what I meant to say. Not a teacher at the front of a classroom, but a teacher at the front of a Dojo filled with karateka. More often than not, very tired, sweaty karateka.
I am called "Sensei". Have I earned that title yet? I guess that depends on who you ask. People are calling me Sensei, and if I didn't want to be referred to be that title, I don't feel that it would be right to tell people not to call me that as they mean it out of respect. I remember reading a post on a forum not that long ago asking "When are you considered a Sensei?", and there were a lot of responses stating that people should not be considered a Sensei until they are at least Sandan, but unfortunately, no one had any really good examples or arguments to back that up except for the typical "My Sensei says..." or "No one has the experience or skills necessary until they have been in Karate / Tae Kwon Do / Ameri-Do-Te for at least 15 years". I'm pretty sure that last one is bullsh*t. Anyway, I equate this argument with the "Kids under 14 shouldn't get a black belt" argument, which has it's own group of nay-sayers.
The term "Sensei" literally translates to "born before", and is generally used to refer to someone who has knowledge and experience in a topic, whether it is a martial art, or accounting, or useless TV trivia. Do a Google Image Search of the term "sensei" and you will find tons of pictures of old Japanese dudes (and non-Japanese dudes) sitting around and being wise, or throwing kicks, or helping others throw a kick. When did these old dudes (and some not-so-old dudes) become a sensei? Did they wait until they received sandan? For many of them, the Dan system wasn't even invented, and the belt was just something to hold your jacket closed. They were called Sensei because they taught their art, and their students and community respected them.
I instruct students on how to perform basic techniques. I am asked a question and I either respond with the answer, or I ask the student to stretch their thinking and discover the answer on their own. I help students prepare for their next belt test. I help students work on their technique. I help students set their own goals and push them to achieve them, as well as hold them accountable when they don't reach them. I do ALL of this, and I love it.
The argument of when someone can be called a Sensei is pointless. Students will go to a person they respect for answers and guidance, whether they are a sandan or a shodan. Too many people are too concerned with semantics, and they are losing sight of the big picture.
Now, about those 14 year old black belts :)